Remember sleep-away camp? Roasting marshmallows by the fire, bunking in log cabins, crafting leather belts, laughing in the dining hall with new-found friends… Picture your adult self at camp with your kids. Now add snow.
That’s the scene at the YMCA of the Rockies’ Snow Mountain Ranch, just outside Winter Park. At this high-altitude hideout, families with children of all ages can enjoy favorite outdoor winter activities — cross-country skiing, ice skating, sledding and snowshoeing— plus, lots of indoor fun at the ranch’s swimming pool, climbing wall and roller-skating rink.
And here’s the best part: A winter getaway at Snow Mountain Ranch won’t break the bank. A weekend full of activities, meals and lodging starts at $198 for a family of four.
Access to adventure
Snow Mountain Ranch sits on 5,100 acres of pristine wilderness in Colorado’s glorious high country, yet it’s only around 100 miles from Denver International Airport. One mission of the YMCA of the Rockies, which also operates a center in Estes Park, is to put Christian principals into practice by providing unifying experiences for families in an environment that builds healthy mind, body and spirit.
Indeed, the scenic mountain setting — about as close to God’s country as you can get — is an ideal place for making memories in nature’s playground.
The ranch is open year-round to accommodate not only individual families, but reunions, youth groups, corporate retreats and even large conferences. But it really shines in the winter months. The area gets about 300 inches of snow each season — plenty of white stuff to blanket the 62 miles of groomed cross-country and snowshoeing trails.
Nordic novices are welcome to try out the sport with lessons for grownups and kids as young as five. Rent all the equipment you need for skiing or snowshoeing, plus inner tubes for the sledding hill and ice skates for the outdoor rink.
Want still more outdoor fun? Ride a sleigh pulled by a team of horses through a snow-covered pine forest to a roaring bonfire, where you roast marshmallows and warm up with hot chocolate.
When it’s time for a break from the outdoors, it’s often a case of, “What should we do first?” Make the rounds at the roller-skating rink, play a game of hoops or gym soccer, sign up for a session at the climbing wall or swim in the indoor pool, with its slide and toddler wading area.
Creative types (mom and dad included!) love hanging out at the crafts shop. For modest fees, each family member can come home with a handmade souvenir — from tie-dye T-shirts to stained-glass wall hangings. Knowledgeable staff members guide you through each craft.
Lodging and dining
The least expensive accommodations — and most Spartan — are the standard hotel-like rooms in one of the four lodges. Each room comes with a private bath and sleeps four in a king-size and bunk beds or two double beds. Some rooms sleep six.
The log cabins are more spacious, with fireplaces, and some have fully-equipped kitchens. Since the focus is on the outdoors at Snow Mountain Ranch, there are no televisions in the lodge rooms and only a few in the cabins. You might want to bring some extra books, playing cards or quiet games to keep the kids entertained before bedtime. Pack your own hair dryer and toiletries, too.
The three- to five-bedroom vacation homes are ideal if you plan to share accommodations with friends — and those do come with TVs, microwaves, dishwashers and a deck or patio.
In the buffet-style dining room, large communal tables invite mingling with your fellow guests. Meal prices are inexpensive — a child’s lunch is $5, an adult’s is $8. Don’t expect gourmet food; the fare is akin to meals in a college dining hall. But it’s all-you-can-eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
The most affordable way to go
If you’re already on vacation at the alpine ski resort of Winter Park, it’s easy to pop up to Snow Mountain Ranch to play for the day. But if it’s a weekend stay you’re considering, check out the special themed “family weekends.” The package deals make it easy — and affordable — to enjoy everything the ranch has to offer.
These weekends are especially fun, with Friday night campfires and Saturday night family movies. The package typically includes complimentary or discounted activities that you’d otherwise have to pay for separately.
Plus, what better way to meet other like-minded families — from Colorado and all over the country — who simply want to hang out together in the great outdoors.
If You Go
The YMCA of the Rockies’ website (www.ymcarockies.org) is quite detailed, with lodging options and rates, “family weekend” dates and driving directions. If the site doesn’t answer your questions about staying and playing at Snow Mountain Ranch or its sister property, the Estes Park Center, call 970-887-2152.
Membership in the YMCA of the Rockies or your hometown Y means a $15/night discount. YMCA of the Rockies members have reservation priority for cabins.
The warm-weather months at Snow Mountain Ranch bring biking, hiking, mini-golf, canoeing, fishing and horseback riding with the kids. Themed family weekends aren’t available in the summer, but they are in the spring and fall.
Kara Williams is the editor of Mountain Parent, a free bi-monthly publication for families who reside in and visit Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley.
From the Editors: We spent a heap of time making sure this story was accurate when it was published, but of course, things can change. Please confirm the details before setting out in our great Centennial State.